Everyone has trouble sleeping once in a while. But if this turns into a regular thing, it could be very bad for your health. According to sleep expert Matthew Walker, we may be in the midst of a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic” that is responsible for an increase in potentially fatal diseases and the unnecessary shortening of many lives.
The director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California-Berkeley also warns that sleep deprivation affects “every aspect of our biology” and has, unfortunately, become quite widespread throughout modern society.
He describes that electric lights, televisions, computer screens, and other technologies can emit sleep-preventing “blue light,” and these are the primary factors behind this epidemic. However, he also adds that longer commute times and the blurring of that important line between work and personal life are major contributors as well.
The impacts of these things, he warns, are quite significant as sleep deprivation has been linked to increased risk for cancer, obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Poor mental health has also been associated with sleep deprivation.
He comments, “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation. It sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet, no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplae and our communities, our homes, and families. But when did you ever see [a public health campaign] poster urging sleep on people? When did a doctor prescribe, not sleeping pills, but sleep itself? It needs to be prioritized, even incentivised.”
Walker comments that all of this is a condition of our modern, fast-paced society; that we are all somewhat conditioned to equate sleep with sloth. He notes, “We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting,” describing that as a “badge of honor.”
However, he also advises: “Once you know that after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep, your natural killer cells – the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day – drop by 70 percent per cent, or that a lack of sleep is linked to cancer of the bowel, prostate and breast, or even just that the World Health Organisation has classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen, how could you do anything else?”